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Wednesday January 17, 2001

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At last, justice for Steve May

Headline Photo

By Sheila Bapat

Steve May finally got a break.

After two years of the United States Army investigating him and nearly discharging him for violating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the homosexual Arizona state legislator and member of the Army Reserves is off the hook.

The Army was trying to discharge May before his original discharge date, which is May 11, 2001. On Monday, the Army agreed to drop the investigation and give him an honorable discharge.

The case went May's way because of his perseverance in appealing the case to higher and higher levels, until it led to direct involvement of the Clinton administration. May met with Clinton's Chief of Staff John Podesta on Dec. 27, and then with Pentagon officials.

It was the Clinton administration that first pushed "don't ask, don't tell" through Congress. Now, nearly eight years later, the same administration is trying to curtail the policy's clout.

But Clinton officials cannot intervene in all 1,200 yearly violations, especially since they're out of a job on Saturday.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was a Clinton administration brainchild. It was intended to do good. Of course, once Congress got its hands on it, it all went to hell. The policy was juiced up so that, when implemented, it would be harder for homosexuals to serve in the military, period.

May argued that he had left active duty in 1995 and announced his sexuality while running for office in 1996-he never actively served as an open homosexual, so he was not directly violating the policy.

He also argued that, as a public official, he ought to be free to make an argument without fear of prosecution. Two years ago, former Arizona representative Karen Johnson proposed a bill limiting domestic partners benefits. As he rightfully should, May stood up and opposed the bill, and in doing so, announced that he is gay. It all went downhill from there.

Until now.

What made the process so unfair was that May, a devout conservative and gay activist, was forced to defend himself on both fronts. In the state legislature he had to face homophobic members of his own party. Because he defended himself in the political arena, he was prosecuted in the military arena.

"Many members expected me to stay in my office quietly," May told his colleagues in the state legislature two years ago. "When you attack my family and my freedom, I will not sit in my office quietly."

May says his case sets an important precedent: making an exception on his behalf to a rule that has led to 1,200 military discharges of homosexuals every year could compel the military to be less rigid when implementing the policy.

May himself represents a unique figure in Arizona. In a conservative state that is not known for embracing homosexuality or other "lifestyles" that break from "traditional family values," he's stepping out of the norm.

But the army's anti-gay policy still stands. While May's case is an important step forward in raising tolerance within the military, the status quo still applies for the 1,199 other yearly "violators" of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Sheila Bapat is a political science junior. She can be reached at